Boxing Day puzzle


Monkey Puzzle Tree growing wild next to The South Downs Way in Sussex

Do Monkey Puzzle trees grow wild in the UK?

Now here’s an odd question. Are Monkey Puzzles an invasive species colonising the English countryside? Do they self seed or do they need someone to plant them to become established?

It’s generally accepted that Monkey Puzzles rarely self seed in the UK but it does happen – I’ve read about it in Cornwall and the South West. However it takes many years for a seedling to become established and growth is then limited to 20-40cm per year depending on the situation and surroundings of the plant. Native to South America they can live to over a 1,000 years but they’ve only been in the UK since Victorian times when they were introduced as a novelty to ornamental parks and gardens.

This is when they were first called ‘Monkey Puzzles’. Sir William Molesworth, the proud owner of a young specimen at Pencarrow garden near Bodmin in Cornwall was showing it to a group of friends. One of them – the noted barrister Charles Austin – remarked “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that”. As the species had no existing popular name it was first known as a ‘Monkey Puzzler’ and then ‘Monkey Puzzle’ stuck.

So how about this Monkey Puzzle growing amongst Oak trees close to The South Downs Way? Could this be a self-seeder or was it planted intentionally? It’s a very odd location for a planted specimen tree – growing shoulder to shoulder amongst Oak in the middle of nowhere. Could this be an example of a naturalised Monkey Puzzle tree?

This tree is near West Dean and Monkton House in West Sussex. It’s quite possible there are Monkey Puzzles in the grounds of these properties so perhaps this is a rare example of a Monkey Puzzle growing wild in the UK. Or perhaps it was just planted by someone knowing that one day people would stop and stare and wonder at this incongruous tree? People will possibly be asking the same question in 1,000 years time!

Incidentally – did you know that Whitby Jet is formed from the ancient remains of Monkey Puzzle trees???! A true fact!

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